BOSTON — Dunkin’ Donuts, the coffee and baked goods chain synonymous with breakfast, is targeting the afternoon and evening crowds with new flatbread sandwiches and personal pizzas heated in convection ovens rather than microwaves.
The chain hopes the moves, to be announced Wednesday, will improve food quality and bolster an expansion plan that’s introducing Dunkin’s pink and orange-themed restaurants far beyond the brand’s Northeastern base.
Although Dunkin’ has previously experimented with sandwiches, the 57-year-old chain is billing what it calls its “all-day, oven-toasted menu” as its biggest change since its launch of espresso drinks in 2003.
The goal is to even out sales throughout the 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. day maintained by most of the 5,400-plus stores in the U.S. About two-thirds of sales come before noon, with most customers choosing snacks such as baked goods and breakfast sandwiches with coffee.
“It speaks to changing consumption trends, with people having a lot more occasions to graze, and consumers’ desire to have what they want, when they want it,” said Will Kussell, president and chief brand officer.
Dunkin’s shift is in line with recent moves by lunch- and dinner-oriented fast-food chains to add breakfast offerings throughout the day, said Darren Tristano of Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting firm.
“Ideally, you’re looking at how to increase store volume, and profitability,” Tristano said. “For Dunkin, I think there’s definitely going to be an investment cost up front. But if they can get over the initial cost, it will probably work for them in the long-term.”
Kussell declined to reveal the cost of replacing microwaves with convection ovens, which will take place throughout the chain, except in some small outlets offering limited menus. Staff are being trained to use the new ovens. Dunkin’ does not expect the ovens to increase the time needed to heat made-to-order sandwiches and pizzas, or delay flow of customers.
Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ also hopes the new ovens will boost customer satisfaction with breakfast sandwiches, since microwaving can create limp eggs and mushy bread.
But Dunkin’ may find it difficult getting morning customers to return later in the day, said Sharon Zackfia, an analyst with William Blair & Co. in Chicago.
“You may grow your afternoon business, but lose some in the morning,” Zackfia said. “Some people don’t like to go to the same place multiple times a day.”
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The chain’s new flatbread sandwiches come in three varieties: turkey cheddar and bacon ($3.49); ham and Swiss ($3.49); and three cheese ($2.99). Five-inch supreme and pepperoni pizzas cost $2.99, while cheese pizzas cost $2.49.
Also new are hash browns in containers designed to fit into car cupholders. Nine bite-sized pieces will be sold at $1.29.
The new foods were introduced starting last spring at test locations, and were expected to be available Wednesday in 3,500 locations nationwide. Another 2,000 or so U.S. locations will have the expanded menu by spring, with locations in 30 foreign countries eventually making the transition.
It’s not first time Dunkin’ has offered sandwiches. The chain offered soup and sandwiches in the 1980s, and years later offered sandwiches at a few locations under a deal with sandwich chain Togo’s that was eventually abandoned. Parent company Dunkin’ Brands Inc.’ sold Togo’s to a private equity firm, more than a year after Dunkin’ Brands itself was sold in a March 2006 private equity buyout.
The ownership change came as the New England-bred chain moved into the Midwest, West and South.
The latest new markets include Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Austin.
Beyond sandwiches, pizzas and hash browns, Dunkin’ will offer items such as multigrain bagels and angel food muffins in coming months — healthier fare in line with Dunkin’s switch last fall to what it calls a “zero gram trans fat” menu at U.S. locations.
“This is a long-term commitment, with a continuous flow of new products off the oven-toasted platform,” Kussell said.
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